Monday, 30 June 2014

More thoughts on the draft: Alexis Vanier, Alexis Pépin could have been Canadiens. Instead, we have Brett Lernout and Daniel Audette.

After a satisfactory first-round on Friday, my expectations for the Canadiens were lowered on Saturday at the draft.  I'd written off Ivan Barbashev or other sexy picks who'd fallen out of the first round since we didn't have a second-rounder, didn't have the ammo to go up and get one, but I was hoping we'd have a crack at the Alexises from the LHJMQ later on.  Based only on what I could read online, I just liked their size, the fact that they had skill, and the homeboy angle.

I was surprised that Alexis Vanier lasted into the fourth round, maybe not being able to showcase his game in the playoffs hurt his stock.  He's a big defenceman, variously listed at 6'4" or 6'5", 225 lbs, supposedly good skillset but still a project, would take time to develop.  With 15 goals, 36 points in his draft year, he has the skill with the puck, there's something there to work with.

He was scooped up in the 4th round, 102nd overall by the San Jose Sharks.

The other Alexis is Alexis Pépin, who is more of a risk.  He's big, listed now at 6'2" and 225, and has a big, big frame.  Trouble is, he's had trouble with his conditioning, with maturity, in that he ballooned up to 240 or 250 pounds last year, and obviously it wasn't 'good' weight.  Still good skill, good shot, has potential.  Knocks on him about his will, his ability to battle, and his skating, were thought to be caused in large part by his excess weight.

Patrick Roy took a chance, the Avalanche got him in the fourth, 114th overall.  It's debatable that the Canadiens would have considered him, given their emphasis on character, and the ability to compete.

Still, the fourth round is where you can afford to take these long shots.  Last year, we were swinging for the fences with players like Martin Reway, who had huge skill but issues due to their size.  I wouldn't have had a problem to gamble on the long shots who have the size, strength, and frame to make it to the NHL, but need to work on their game and their maturity.

It's moot in any case, the Canadiens traded up in the third round to snag a potential enforcer in Brett Lernout, using their fourth round pick to move up a fourteen spots in the third.  I have to trust what they saw, their decision, but that's what I had in mind, what I'd hoped for at the draft.

Instead, the Canadiens took some players who were relatively unknown, quite low on the radar.  Mr. Lernout is described as a very tough, defensively oriented defenceman, who shoots right and has a hard shot.  We can see him becoming a third-pairing defenceman who brings toughness to a lineup.  At 6'4" and quite a few tilts under his belt as can be viewed on YouTube, he does have the mean streak you'd look for in that kind of player.  Again, the Canadiens nabbed a rightie in the lower rounds, and added him to their group of rightie d-men in the pipeline.

The Canadiens then had to wait until the 5th round, and took Nikolas Koberstein, another obscure defenceman from the plains.  He plays Tier II Junior so he can retain his NCAA eligibility, and has committed to the University of Alaska at Anchorage.  He's 6'2", 190 lbs, seems like he plays tough too, but has no discernible offence based on his numbers.

With their second 5th-rounder the Canadiens snapped up another undersized, offensively-oriented forward in Daniel Audette.  He was a better bargain, we got him much lower than where he was ranked, due in no small part to his 5'9" listed height.

I still question whether we should take chances on very small players, after last season's picks of Lehkonen, Andrighetto and Reway.  We're taking three chances on guys on that the Kings or Ducks or Sharks wouldn't touch, based on their philosophy, and we take another chance this season.

I understand the point, what if their number comes up, what if they're the winning ticket.  I'd counter that with the idea that a big winger who has a lot of holes in his game could also be the winning ticket.  We already have taken a lot of chances on small players, let's take fliers on big guys.

And yeah, some will argue about balance, how young Mr. Scherbak isn't small, and Mr. Lernout is big, so you need a bit of both, but the thing is, we've already got a lot of 'small and skilled', we're already not in balance.  To rectify the balance, you don't get 'a bit of both', you load up on what you're lacking.  If the bathwater is too cold, you add hot water, not 'a bit of both'; you don't add lukewarm water.

Practically, I'll take comfort in the fact that since everyone is stocking up on size, those shelves are going to be very bare, but the ones with small skilled players are going to be well-stocked, there will be a good selection, good value there.  But I do suspect that the Canadiens adding Donald Audette to our already relatively slight prospect pipeline was not the way to go.

To round out our draft, we got the USHL goalie of the year in Hayden Hawkey, who'll have four seasons to work on his game in the NCAA before we need to decide whether we need to offer him a contract.

Same concept in the seventh, we got a Tier II Ontario Junior player, Jake Evans, a playmaking centre who's headed to the NCAA also.

The number of NCAA-bound players we picked up must not be by accident.  The Canadiens are very close to the 50-contract limit, and may have decided to relieve some of that pressure, push some decisions later by taking college-bound rather than CHL players.

What this did though is that, contrary to the 2012 draft, our haul this year seems underwhelming, deflating almost.  In 2012, we knew most of the players who were drafted the instant their name was called, they mostly seemed as bargains who fell into our laps, highly-touted players like Sebastian Collberg, Dalton Thrower, Tim Bozon, Brady Vail and Charles Hudon,

Again, I'll defer to the judgment of professional scouts, but I would have loved to sneak in one of the Alexis, rather than the miniature Daniel Audette.

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